“Dear Insync, After all of these years of guitar, keyboards, and studios, I shouldn’t be asking this…but…For some strange reason, I always wanted to drive my keyboards with a MIDI guitar. I am put off by the bad press such as “slow response”, lack of solid info on what you really need, and high prices for the interfaces. I don’t need a box with sounds like the new Roland stuff – I already have keyboards. I just need a simple (yeah right!!!) MIDI converter – like the idea behind the Casio MIDI Guitar (which never really took off).”
How dare you ask us that! Actually we’ll just pretend you didn’t say ‘MIDI’ and ‘guitar’ in the same sentence. Are you daft? Don’t you realize that in some parts of the world you could be imprisoned and “beat upside the head” for asking such a question? Like Texas, for instance? But hey – we already know the laws HAVE to be a little screwy in Wexas. I mean Texas.
Ahem. Back to the subject at hand. OK – MIDI guitar systems have gotten a bad rap throughout their existence, but take a moment to consider the factors:
1) The “historic” guitar vs. keyboards rivalry in pop and rock, which most of us know is just silly…we use the right tool for the job, right? Some guitarists have an inherent fear and/or hatred (fear and loathing, anyone?) of keyboards (or keyboard players), and vice versa. This is usually from a bad musical experience (or a B.M.E., as we like to call it in “the Biz”. Actually I just made that up). It’s all psychological, really.
2) The early versions of MIDI guitar systems were two things – expensive and slow-tracking. Sounds as if you believe this is still true. It’s well beyond what it was even a few years ago, and getting better each NAMM show, it seems.
3) Casio, no matter what musician is helping to sell their instruments, is still Casio. Ain’t no helpin’ it. This actually may have set the whole MIDI guitar concept BACK a few years!* OK, no it didn’t. Sorry to all you Casio-heads out there…PLEASE don’t inundate us with rowdy emails of protest! [*The statements of today’s inSync author in no way reflect the views and beliefs of Sweetwater…Casio makes quality instruments, calculators and watches. You can find them at your local K-Mart].
4) Although a MIDI guitar system may make a large palette of sounds available to guitarists, traditional guitar voicings and techniques don’t necessarily work with a lot of those sounds [Hmmm, let’s try fingertapping a solo with a French Horn patch…]. Also, chord structures and arpeggiations are usually a dead giveaway that it’s a guitar that’s generating the notes. But that’s not always a bad thing…what we’re trying to say here is that sometimes a guitarist will get into one of these systems and not really know how to get the most out of it. Sometimes.
But who cares? All of those appear to be non-factors as to whether or not one of these systems will work for you. The truth is, after years of work by the relevant manufacturers in this area (Roland being one of the most established, by the way), most of today’s MIDI guitar systems are actually very tight and used in a number of places professionally. Ever listen to any recent King Crimson? What’s more, the prices are down to a level that’s more enticing and guitar-player friendly. New techniques are learned easily enough – especially if you have the ears and a bit of knowledge about the implementation and range of the instruments you’re trying to reproduce. Or of course you could say ‘hang it all, I’m gonna be O-RIGINAL,’ and fingertap that funky French Horn anyway. This is truly an age of experimentation, and there’s nothing wrong with that in the least.
However, our suggestion tailor-made for you is to look into the new breed of MIDI guitars, with pitch-to-MIDI systems built-in – Parker’s MIDIFly and the Brian Moore Guitars, both with the MIDIAxe™ system, come to mind immediately. These offer an alternative to the box-o’-sounds MIDI guitar synth/pickup interface and just give you a MIDI guitar to control your own keyboard sounds as you desire – even the Casio sounds. Actually, in terms of the Robert Cray-endorsed Casio MIDI guitar of a few years back, these new instruments are a good two generations (at least) beyond that one, developmentally. Be sure to note that both 5-pin and 13-pin in-guitar systems exist, and the 5-pin are independent built-in tracking systems (no extra hardware needed to interface with other 5-pin MIDI equipment). The 13-pin are made to interface with the 13-pin systems already in existence, like Roland or Axon.
The best suggestion we’ll make all day: Talk to a Sales Engineer. Try out some of the systems out there now, if you can. Get a firsthand impression and decide whether or not it’s workable for you. You may find yourself surprised!